How to Make a Will: Part 1 (The Checklist)

Michael CarabashPlease note that the information provided herein is not legal advice and is provided for educational purposes only. If you need legal advice with respect to how to make a will, you should seek professional assistance (e.g. make a post on Dynamic Legal Forms).

In the next few blog posts, I will provide some general observations about how to make a will. In this part, I’ll discuss the initial checklist a person should make and follow in order to prepare themselves on how to make a will. I am assuming that the reader will be trying to do this on their own without the assistance of a lawyer. These days, lawyers typically charge between $300-$500 for a simple will, which may or may not include power of attorneys (i.e. continuing power of attorney over property and power of attorney over health care decisions). Sometimes, lawyers will prepare your will for free, depending on whether it’s simple enough and whether they believe that they can get extra business out of you because of this free service.

Now onto the initial checklist… The purpose of the initial checklist is to make sure that you gather all the relevant information necessary to create a comprehensive will. This framework will help you understand how to make a will. The following basic information should be included in the checklist:

  • Personal Information
  • Income Information
  • Assets: Safety Deposit Boxes, Real Estate, Insurance, Annuities, RRSP’s, etc., Corporate Securities (i.e. shares and bonds, etc.), GICs, business interests, debts owing from third parties, royalties, machinery/tools/equipment, household goods and furniture, etc.
  • Liabilities: Mortgages, Loans, etc.

Once details concerning yourself, your income, and your assets and liablities has been gathered, the next step is for you to outline the instructions for the will.

To start, the following questions will need to be answered with respect to disposing of personal effects and the residue of your estate (i.e. the pool of funds accumulated by the estate trustee after dealing with the deceased’s debts, taxes, and funeral-related expenses):

  • How do you want your personal effects and estate residue to be disposed of with respect to your surviving spouse and children (if applicable)?
  • How is the distribution to be effected (i.e. who does it and when can they do it; for example, the estate trustee can, in their sole and absolute discretion, effect the disposition of personal effects)?
  • How is your real estate to be handled?
  • How is your share of family business to be disposed of?
  • Would you like to create a spousal trust, whereby your surviving spouse can live off of the income generated by the residue of your estate until he or she passes away, in which case, the residue is distributed among the beneficiaries (e.g. the children?)
  • What kinds of powers do you want your estate trustee to have with respect to you personal effects (e.g. power to sell, power to invest, power to distribute proceeds, power to loan funds to beneficiaries or others, power to take reasonable compensation from the residue of the estate, etc.) and assets?
  • Do you want to have special clauses dealing with minors (e.g. property relating to minors, a trust relating to minors, guardians of minor’s property, etc.)?
  • What kind of funeral do you want to have?
  • Do you wish to donate your organs?
  • How are disputes to be handled (e.g. arbitration, mediation, court, etc.)?

These and other questions will need to be answered before the will can be properly drafted.

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